MISSOURI GIRL EATS WEEDS
Wed, 04/14/2021 - 12:07pm admin
Ann J. Hines, PhD
It’s harvest season! I haven’t even put in my garden yet, but I’ve put up several foods. After a deep freeze a few weeks ago, we’ve had ample rain and sunshine and the ground is bursting forth with tender green leaves and colorful flowers. I put up two batches of watercress pesto this week. I dehydrated wild onion to make green onion powder. I picked tender yellow rocket buds and steamed them like broccoli. I plucked delicate violets and plentiful dandelion flowers to add to salads. And my boys are waiting to pick redbud blossoms for jelly and watching eagerly for their first morel.
Dandelions are nearly always available to pick and eat any time of the year. There are a few plants with similar leaves, such as Shepherd’s Purse, Cat’s Ear, Sow Thistle, and even the leaves of young chicory. All of these are edible, so if you can gather them all when you go out foraging.
Generally considered a lawn-nuisance, dandelions are tolerated in yards like mine, where I am happy to have well-mowed weeds for my Ozark yard. Even before their cheery yellow blossoms announce themselves, their varied, toothed leaves and flat growth habit make them easy to identify.
Dandelion greens are a wonderful spring tonic with many health benefits. But they can also be bitter and unpalatable. Basically, the more sunshine on the leaves, the more bitter they will be. And a higher nutrient content, including nitrogen that is plentiful after snow, will also encourage less bitterness. So spring is the perfect time to gather them, just as they are bursting forth after the long winter, and before they’ve been baked long in the sun.
The easiest way to start enjoying dandelion is to simply toss some flowers and leaves into your salad. The flowers can be added whole or pulled apart to sprinkle color throughout. The mild bitter flavor will add depth and variety and a pop of color. I often eat some flowers as I am gathering them. They are mildly bitter and have an interesting texture. The whole plant is edible.
You can mix dandelion flowers with other blossoms you find, like clover, violet and redbud, some berries and orange peel, put them all in a French press to make a delicious herbal tea.
Traditional uses of dandelion are notably improving digestion and healing the liver. The roots are a great source of fiber, including inulin, a type of soluble fiber that is beneficial for gut health, blood sugar control and protecting against digestive issues like constipation, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and ulcers. Studies have shown promising benefits for cancer treatment, demonstrating its ability to kill skin and colon cancer cells. Additional studies have shown that the root may also be useful in treating leukemia, pancreatic, breast and prostate cancers. Topically, dandelion helps protect against ultraviolet damage from the sun, and has microbial properties, preventing skin infections and healing acne. Dandelion has been shown to normalize lipid levels, lower cholesterol, prevent the spread of prostate cancer and decrease the risk of breast cancer.
Dandelion is rich in vitamin A, containing over 300% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI). It also contains beneficial flavenoids like carotenes, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These nutrients fight infection, and protect from ultraviolet damage, and from lung and oral cavity cancers. It’s also one of the richest sources of Vitamin K, containing nearly 650% of the RDI. Combined with its rich minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron and magnesium, it provides the body with tools for strong bones and teeth. Vitamin K has also been shown to limit neuronal damage in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Next time you see the humble dandelion blooming, think nutrition instead of nuisance, and add a few to your table!
An avid student of natural health since 1987, Ann is a Missouri native, health coach, triathlete, and collector of rocks and children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org